Meditations

The Best Vietnamese Sandwich in Vancouver


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Vietnam and its neighbours suffered terribly under French colonial rule for nearly 100 years, finally ending in the 1950s. But one of the few benefits of this period was the influence French cuisine, with Vietnamese cooks absorbing the best aspects of colonialist fare, such as the use of dairy – previously unheard of in Vietnam – into their own recipes. All one needs to do to confirm this is try one of their classic iced coffees (with sweetened condensed milk), noodle soup or French sandwiches. Ahh, the Vietnamese baguette-style sandwich. Called a bánh mi, these delectable and inexpensive snacks are heaven on Earth. But who makes the best version?

The reality is that it’s pretty hard to find a bad example of bánh mi sandwiches, but some are truly better than others. The perfectly chewy and crunchy combination of French-style baguette, paté, marinated daikon, carrot, cucumber, cold cuts, sauce, jalapeño, cilantro and a sprinkle of spices can all be slightly different, each creating a synthesis of flavours with subtle differences from other combinations. So for lunch one day we bought a few versions of the top few local purveyors (we’ve nearly tried them all) and did our own taste test.

Ba Le Sandwich Shop at #121-633 Main Street and Au Petit Café at 4851 Main Street are always reliable sources for a quick bite, making hundreds of fresh sandwiches every day. At under $3 each, they are a quick and tasty way to satisfy a craving. Another good option is Kingsway Deli on Kingsway, just east of Fraser. And right next door at 1106 Kingsway is Tung Hing Bakery, who make their own bread and meats on site, assembling these complicated little sandwiches to order for a mere $2.50 each. A twist on the classic sub, Tung Hing also serves chicken and meatball sandwiches, both delicious. So, in an effort to determine the champion, we bought one of each and boogied home to do our taste comparison. It was easy. They all tasted good, but none could match the challenge offered by Tung Hing. There’s just something about the balance of flavours and the fresh ingredients they use that work together, creating a party in your mouth. God these are good. Oh man these are good.

For a more robust menu offering, Bao Chau on Hastings (at Slocan St.) has also earned a spot in our Vietnamese hall of fame. They too serve amazing sandwiches, but make sure to try their salad rolls with the Chinese sausage inside and their Pho noodle soup. Oh yum. Don’t even get me started on Pho beef noodle soup. That’ll have to wait for another taste test!

For an interesting more in-depth look at the influence of French colonialism on Vietnamese cuisine, please check out this feature on www.vietworldkitchen.com.

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